iPad Air Review
The iPad Air is a thinner and lighter iPad for 2013 that offers the same beautiful display and long battery life in a new design that is more portable and better suited for longer periods of use while holding the iPad.
This is the iPad 5th generation, what many rumors referred to as the iPad 5, but it arrives as the iPad Air, borrowing the name from the MacBook Air which is one of the most popular Apple notebook options.
Weighing in at 1 pound it is noticeably lighter than the iPad 3 and iPad 4 which it replaces, and the iPad 2 that Apple still sells for $100 less. When comparing the iPad Air and the iPad 2, many users will see enough benefits to spend an extra $100 to buy the iPad Air, even if that means saving up for another month.
The iPad Air is still substantially larger than the iPad mini and the upcoming iPad mini 2, but the light weight does make it an easier choice to take while on the go, and LTE options on T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint solidify its place as a mobile companion.
While competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition are on store shelves and additional devices like the Kindle Fire HDX or rumored Nexus 10 loom, the iPad Air is an easy recommendation for tablet buyers looking for the best experience.
Where Android phones and the iPhone are comparable in most key areas, the iPad Air outshines Android tablets in the quality of tablet apps and the OS on a tablet, third-party accessories and in the overall design.
For delivering the best 10-inch tablet experience in 2013, the iPad Air earns a Gotta Be Mobile Editor’s Choice Award. The full iPad Air review below will cover the reasons behind this award in full.
For more on how the iPad Air compares to the competition, here’s our iPad Air vs. Surface 2 comparison, iPad Air vs. iPad 4 and iPad Air vs. iPad mini, all of which highlight how the iPad Air compares.
iPad Air | $499 and up
iPad Air Review Guide
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The iPad Air joins the iPad mini 2, or iPad with Retina Display to complete Apple’s 2013 iPad lineup.
Watch the short iPad Air video review below to understand how the thinner and lighter iPad Air changes the way we use the iPad. While the iPad mini and iPad mini with Retina Display are a better choice for ultimate portability the iPad Air shines when it comes to many tasks. Here’s a quick look at some of our favorite uses. Video filmed with Google Glass.
The iPad Air is a larger version of the iPad mini in pretty much every way. Apple slimmed down the bezels on the sides of the iPad Air to offer a narrower width and thanks to the weight reduction it is more comfortable to hold in one hand.
The iPad Air’s back is made of aluminum like most Apple products. Unlike the iPad 4 and iPad 3, the edges curve up swiftly and the device is thinner than previous versions. It also steals the chamfered edges of the iPad mini and iPhone 5s.
Apple includes new stereo speakers on the bottom edge of the iPad Air, though with such close proximity there is not a lot of stereo separation present. A lightning connection is also on the bottom of the device, which is the new standard charger for Apple devices.
The left side of the device includes volume buttons as well as a mute switch that can also lock the orientation of the iPad Air if users prefer that setting. Like the other iPads, the top of the device is home to a power button and the headphone jack. Apple has not moved this to the bottom of the device like it did with the iPhone, though thanks to orientation uses can swivel the iPad to have the headphone jack on the bottom, top, right or left and the iPad screen will still show rightside up.
The iPad Air is comfortable to hold for longer periods, lending itself to reading magazines and books, but it is not as easy to hold with one hand as the iPad mini. Most users will not be able to recline or lie in bed on their back and read while holding the iPad Air in one hand. It is comfortable to hold one-handed while resting the iPad Air on the edge of a bed or on a leg while sitting in a comfy chair.
Notably the iPad Air does not feature TouchID, the fingerprint reader built-in to the iPhone 5s home button. We notice this missing every time we login and leave our finger on the home button waiting for the iPad to unlock. Hopefully Apple will add this to the iPad in the future, but for now users will need to continue entering a pass code.
The iPad Air features a 9.7-inch Retina display that offers a 2,048 by 1,536 resolution. This is higher than most HDTVs, and packed into a very small screen. In turn the pixels are so close that they disappear during normal use resulting in text that is incredibly sharp and photos and videos that look great.
High resolution screens are the norm in most tablets, so a high-resolution display isn’t the separator it once was, but Apple continues to offer one of the best looking mobile displays with the iPad Air.
The screen is glossy, just like the iPad 4 and iPad mini which can complicate use outdoors due to reflections and the sun. If you need to read outdoors at the beach you will likely have a better time with a Kindle Paperwhite, but if you need to mix books, web browsing and HD movies, the iPad Air is still a great option.
The photo above shows the iPad Air in use outdoors at full brightness on an overcast day. Watching Pacific Rim on the iPad Air was a very enjoyable experience with good colors and deep blacks. The display and iPad Air kept up with the fast action on-screen without missing a beat. Games like Anomaly 2 and Infinity Blade 3 also looked stellar on the iPad Air display.
The iPad Air is a powerhouse thanks to Apple’s latest A7 64 bit processor which delivers a very smooth animations and transitions while using iOS 7 to navigate the iPad, switch apps and multitask. Users upgrading from the iPad 3 and iPad 4 will certainly notice the performance boost. The iPad Air v.s iPad 4 videos in the playlist below show the performance boost users will gain on the new iPad Air.
This is he best way to highlight the iPad Air performance gain in ways that users will actually see in daily use. From the ability to load graphically rich games like Infinity Blade 3 faster to loading data and apps quicker, the iPad Air is a very fast device that will help you get to entertainment or work faster.
The iPad Air is not just a device for gamers, the performance increases are significant enough to merit an upgrade for users who plan to use the iPad Air for productivity purposes as well.
Read: iPad 4 vs. iPad Air
Apple adds stereo speakers to the iPad Air, but places both speakers at the bottom of the iPad Air facing to the bottom or the side depending on how you hold the iPad. This means that there is little to no noticeable stereo separation. Cupping a hand around the edge of the iPad directs sound towards the viewer for a better listening experience, but front facing speakers or a speaker on opposite edges would be a vast improvement.
If you want to see how the iPad Air stacks up to other iOS 7 devices, the chart above shows the performance benchmarks using GeekBench 3.
All the performance and apps in the world are no good if the tablet’s battery is dead when you need it. Thankfully the iPad Air battery life matchesApple’s claim of 10 hours of battery life in our usage, and is very efficient at conserving energy when the screen is off and it is on a nightstand or in a bag.
The iPad Air is also capable of acting as a personal hotspot and can last up to 24 hours as a LTE hotspot, which is quite impressive. Overall the iPad Air battery life is excellent and should last long enough for even the busiest of days or for a weekend of use while away from power.
The iPad Air combines a rear facing 5MP iSight camera with a front facing 1.2MP camera, which are both capable of delivering nice looking images. While they are the same as the iPad 4 on paper, the iPad Air does offer a better looking photo. Take a look at the iPad Air camera sample compared to the iPad 4 camera sample in the gallery below.
The front facing camera on the iPad Air is great for video calls and for the occasional self-portrait. It is capable of shooting 720P, which is more than enough for a FaceTime call with coworkers or family members.
For all the improvements Apple delivers, the iPad Air is not going to replace an iPhone 5s or high-end Android smartphone as the go to camera for users. Here are a collection of iPad Air camera samples from the front and rear facing cameras to show what they are capable of.
The iPad Air runs iOS 7, which is Apple’s latest mobile operating system. iOS 7 is designed specifically with a 64-bit processor like the iPad Air’s in mind, which is why we see some of the performance gains across the system. Notably, system animations are much faster.
With the new iPad Air Apple also offers a full productivity suite that should meet the needs of most home users, and may be good enough for business users to get by. The free apps now include iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers and Keynote. The first two apps offer more advanced photo and movie editing right from the iPad Air. GarageBand lets users create music with many instruments and tools.
The most interesting additions are Keynote, Numbers and Pages. These apps cover most home office needs with spreadsheets, presentations and document editing. The apps can open files created in Microsoft Office and save them in a compatible format for sharing as well. iCloud syncs the work to the cloud where users can access the files in a browser on Mac or Windows, as well as in the corresponding apps on Mac.
In addition to the standard iCloud syncing features that iPad owners are used to, Apple now includes iCloud Keychain. This free service syncs passwords, address information and credit cards across the iPad, iPhone and Mac, so that it can automatically fill in fields on the Safari browser. It is not a direct replacement for powerful password managers like LastPass which can help call up a password to login to an app.
Is the iPad Air worth $500? That’s the question we hear every day from readers and family members looking to upgrade or to buy their first tablet. $500 is not cheap, but neither is the iPad Air. Apple recognizes this and offers the iPad 2 for $399 in retail stores.
If you are comparing the iPad Air and the iPad 2 at Best Buy, Apple or another store and are tempted to buy the iPad 2 to save $100, don’t buy a tablet today. The iPad Air is well worth the extra $100 thanks to the Retina Display, faster performance, greater portability, future support for iOS 7 updates and apps that will run better or only on a newer iPad, not to mention the LTE connectivity that is not offered on the iPad 2. If you absolutely need to save $100 buy a refurbished iPad 4.
The iPad mini 2 arrives later this month with the same Apple A7 processor and a new Retina Display that should bring it on par with the iPad Air. It comes down to your needs when choosing between the iPad Air and the iPad mini 2. Some users will prefer the iPad Air’s larger display, while other will want the portability that comes with the smaller iPad mini 2′s 7.9-inch display. If I could only pick one iPad to own, I would go with the iPad mini 2, because I value portability more than a larger screen.
The iPad Air is still a better tablet choice than most Android tablets. While Amazon, Samsung and other companies are delivering better products, none of them make us want to buy them instead of the iPad Air if it is the only tablet we plan to buy for a year or longer.